Governor Deal’s “Takeover Local Schools”plan is no deal for Georgia

2016-17 School Year

ATLANTA – “On Election Day 2016, we want to help ensure that Georgia voters understand fully what their vote on the constitutional amendment regarding Opportunity School Districts (OSD) actually means,” says Georgia Association of Educators (GAE) President Dr. Sid Chapman.  “Unfortunately, there is marketing from proponents of this Takeover Local Schools plan that doesn’t fully inform voters who are frankly too busy with their everyday lives to delve into the details.  We hope between now and Election Day to lay out the facts for Georgia citizens so they can make an informed decision.”

Those facts, Chapman contends, must include current data and research outcomes from similar “Takeover” projects already in progress, e.g., New Orleans, Tennessee, and most recently, Michigan.  “Before the 2015 legislative session, new education initiatives such as OSD were being proposed. Yet there had been no effort to evaluate current programs for value, success, impact or results.  Nothing had been shared with taxpayers and most importantly parents, regarding what previously implemented policies and procedures had yielded for Georgia’s 1.7 million public school students.  Instead of allowing best practices and results to be the guidepost, we observed a full scale corporate assault for new programs and procedures that have yielded very little successful student outcomes in places like New Orleans.”

As an example, Chapman points to Georgia systems that were early adapters of either staying as is or converting to a Charter System or the IE2 System as a result of Race to the Top.  He notes that the state has yet to assess and analyze student performance results to determine how student outcomes are trending using those models.  This data could have been compared with the traditional school operating models currently in effect.  From that information, Georgia could have made decisions about school models based on actual outcomes and not intangible projections. He also points to the current QBE funding formula which is undergoing review by Gov. Deal’s Education Reform Commission. “Yes the formula is now outdated, but it was never fully funded and given a chance in its heyday. Let’s implement and assess something fully before we simply ditch it for political expediency and the next ‘big idea.’”

Lisa Morgan is a 14- year veteran of DeKalb County Schools currently at Midway Elementary School, which is on the OSD list.  Her main concern, as well as other educators and schools affected by this decision, was how this and any legislation would affect her students. She would come to learn that despite their best intentions and efforts, the Governor and his Office of Student Achievement had failed to take into account the experience from a key variable - an educator currently working in the classroom.  While lawmakers, academicians, consultants, administrators, retired educators, and business leaders had provided their input regarding the legislation amending the Georgia Constitution to allow for a state takeover of local community schools, one key voice had yet to be heard – a current practitioner.  That, notes Chapman, is indefensible.

In her earlier testimony before the state’s House Education Committee, Morgan said “This is very personal for me. You’ve heard [them called] students, children… but these are my babies you’re discussing today!  I have worked with my colleagues at Midway for 14 years. We are committed to each and every one of our children - and not just their academic growth, but to their social growth, their emotional growth. Our students have so many challenges that you can’t understand!”

Community realities such as parental absenteeism, poverty, hunger - nutrition, housing, hygiene and even guardianship issues, all major challenges to a child’s learning environment incurred through no fault of the schools’, have led these “chronically failing” schools to their current academic realities and subsequent stigmatization under OSD.  “This is what the majority of the schools on the OSD’s takeover list face,” exclaimed Chapman.  “Their ultimate success will come from providing complete, essential resources and support that can be used locally to empower them toward positive change, not from some “OSD superintendent” sitting miles away in an Atlanta office.”

“The state level ‘take-over’ of local schools, which is what OSD would do, is intrusive and falls well outside of the values of what we feel most Georgians hold regarding our children which comes down local control,” Chapman says.  “While GAE acknowledges there are schools that must close the achievement gap, we contend a state takeover is not the method to apply. We all realize that there is an urgency to address schools that are not meeting our children’s needs.  However, we also cannot expose our children to unproven methods that disjoint their learning.  We must work together to address the myriad of issues and challenges that impact student achievement and success. We do not need a fourth school system in Georgia to which local monies would flow.  We are barely funding the one we have now.”

Dr. Kristen Buras, an associate professor in the Department of Educational Policy Studies at Georgia State University, noted that “...New Orleans is the nation’s first all-charter school district. Charter advocates describe the district’s achievements as nothing short of a miracle. The truth is quite different: Flooding New

Orleans with charter schools has been disastrous.” Dr. Buras has conducted extensive research on RSD [Recovery School District] for both professional and personal reasons. The academician grew up in New Orleans and has had a keen interest in education reform in her home town. Her research illuminated some astounding facts:

“...the performance of charter schools in the Recovery School District [RSD] is dismal. In 2011, the

state began issuing letter grades. All of the state-run Recovery School District schools received a

“D” or “F” and 79 percent of charter schools in the district received a “D” or “F.” In

2014, RSD-New Orleans is still performing below the vast majority of the state’s other districts

at the fourth and eighth grades in subjects tested by the Louisiana Educational Assessment Program,

including English language arts, math, and science...”

Bottom line, says Chapman, voters must be very careful about the bill of goods they are being sold under the guise of ‘education reform.’ “True reform, does not entail a state takeover of our local schools,” says Chapman.  “Rather, progress starts with actually listening to current practitioners and providing them the tools they need and then empowering them to use those tools to innovate in the classroom. GAE will be helping to ensure voters have all the facts before they press those buttons on November 8th.”